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The other day someone asked me on Instagram why I didn't go to Santorini or Mykonos on my recent Greece trip and I had to think about the answer for a bit. I had no good reason for not going. I think even the most popular places are usually popular for a good reason and probably worth a visit and I am not one of those bloggers who plans her trip according to SEO keywords (in which case a trip to Santorini and Mykonos might be really hard to score for as those Greek islands are incredibly popular). I just had the notion that while I wanted ocean, cheese, and kittens, I also wanted something different for my Greece trip.
I don't know where I first saw pictures or heard of Meteora. But as soon as I did I knew I wanted to visit Meteora if only because it looked like a fairytale: hundreds of incredible high rocks, isolated monasteries, and untouched nature. In short - the perfect backdrop for adventures.
Without really knowing what Meteora is all about or what to expect I just decided to go. Or rather when the people from Discover Greece who organized my trip asked me what I wanted to see, I told them: Meteora! I knew it would hit all the marks for 'different' and make a welcome addition to ocean, cheese, and kittens. While it wasn't exactly on the way (traveling to various places in Greece isn't the most straightforward), the detour turned out to be oh so worth it.
What is Meteora
Meteora (or Meteora Grecia as my lovely Italian buddy kept on calling it) is a place in central Greece, however, not as many think a city (the closest city is Kalambaka, Greece). It describes both the iconic rock formations as well as a complex of Eastern Orthodox monasteries which come right after Mount Athos in importance for the church.
You will find a total of 1566 rocks with the tallest standing over 600 m tall in Meteora. Meteora means the one who floats or is suspended. The reason for this name can best be experienced when there are clouds low enough to shroud the base of the rocks and you are standing on top of them.
Naturally it is also a UNESCO world heritage site but first popped on the tourist radar as a location for James Bond's "For Your Eyes Only" which was shot at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, Meteora. I am still a bit fuzzy on the details because the monks clearly must have had a problem with Bond's MO and later refused filming of some Game of Thrones episodes here, claiming too much sex and violence. The series was still allowed to use some of the scenery to create the setting of the Eyrie of Vale but most of it had to be added in post-production.
Not only for R-rated content but tourism, in general, has become a double-edged sword here: it is not well liked but needed and James Bond with all his flaws put Meteora firmly on the tourist map in Greece. While it isn't remote and isolated (unless you were a nun living in one of the monasteries perched on top of the rocks), it also isn't as popular with international tourists as many other Greek destinations. Whenever I told Greek people I was going to visit Meteora, they seemed pleased; as if I had discovered a little Grecian secret. And they all told me I had made a good choice - Meteora has not a single blue and white building but is still absolutely stunning.
What to see in Meteora
Meteora is a paradise for hikers and climbers as well as those interested in religion and history. You can either hire a car and explore the area and some of the monasteries or take various guided tours with Visit Meteora. I opted for the latter. My first tour was the so-called Meteora Sunset Tour which took me to various viewpoints and sites of interest that tell the story of the area's history: from the first hermits who lived in mountain caves to how the monasteries on top of the rocks were built. Today you can still visit six of the original 24 monasteries, two inhabited by nuns and the others by monks.
Some of the highlights you shouldn't miss include the following Meteora monasteries: the Great Meteoron Monastery, the Holy Monastery of Roussanou and the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, Meteora aka James Bond's monastery.
To me, Meteora's true beauty unveiled when I went to explore by foot the next day. A Meteora Hiking Tour offers a moderate hike through the spectacular scenery. You follow on the old path monks would have to take from their refuge down, can visit the Ypapanti Monastery which was built completely into a rock cave and that is now only guarded by a gatekeeper, and learn all about the life of the nuns and monks in this area.
Tours start from Kalambaka and are well organized and very informative. In hindsight, I would have preferred an extra day though to take a rental car and explore on my own because the nature in Meteora has an almost spiritual aura I think needs to be enjoyed and cherished and needless to say, the best Instagram shots don't happen when hopping on and off a tour bus.
Visit Meteora also offers climbing tours and a Hiking and Scramble Tour of Great Saint that takes you up the Aghia, the highest of the Meteora rocks with a height of 630 m. Whichever tour you choose make sure to check beforehand if the tour you pick is according to your interest (hiking/nature versus history) and to your fitness level.
Kalambaka is small and doesn't offer huge entertainment. There are a variety of shops, cafes and restaurants though to keep you well fed. I ate at Valia Calda which offers cuisine with local products from the mountains and the forest, Greek wine, and an amazing walnut crusted fried feta you should not miss. For an awesome gyros pita go to Bakns on Sidirodromou - this unassuming little place was discovered by some Greeks on my tour and is as local as it gets and cheap as well - a gyro will cost you EUR 2!
If you are interested in mushroom foraging come in October or during Truffle season in Meteora. Then you can go mushroom hunting and of course find special mushroom dishes on all the menus. Unfortunately, I was a bit too early to find mushrooms myself. Instead, I went to the Natural History Museum Meteora that also has a section of all the mushrooms in the area, Smurf mushrooms and toadstools also called Santa's mushrooms here as reindeers eat them to get high.
When to visit Meteora & Weather
Meteora has its charms all year long. I personally would avoid the summer months as it gets incredibly hot even in the mountainous areas. Usually, September is a great time to go through I got a bit unlucky with my Meteora weather - it was cold enough to mock my summer wardrobe. While I had packed a light jacket and sneakers suitable for hiking I was missing a warm scarf and a jersey.
Some local Greeks told me that their favorite time in Meteora is actually the winter months when you have a chance to see the rocks covered in snow and shredded in mist. Keep in mind, that hiking during that time of the year might be limited and definitely more tricky.
Where to stay in Meteora
There are a variety of Meteora hotels and guesthouses to suit all tastes and budgets. I stayed at the Monastiri Guesthouse which was conveniently located right by the train station and the Natural History Museum Meteora. The guesthouse offers some modern rooms as well as some historic ones, a pool, and some killer spinach pies for breakfast. From here you can easily reach the main road, Trikalon, where you will find shops, banks, and a variety of restaurants.
Other Kalambaka hotels take you a bit closer to the rocks and looked really quaint and the Meteora Grand Hotel offers the most luxury. Tours will pick you up wherever you are staying and otherwise the town is quickly explored by foot.
How to get to Meteora
It is really easy to visit Meteora when you take the Athens to Meteora train. The train ride takes about 4.5 hours (or a little longer if you are coming with the train via Paleofarsalos) and tickets are EUR 29,29 including seat reservation.
Larissa is the main train station in Athens and you can also book a pick up from the station in Kalambaka, Greece with Visit Meteora who will take you to your hotel.
Trains are comfortable enough and you have a bistro cart where you can buy really good cheese pie and coffee.